As lyle and others have pointed out throughout the week, little ole TCU had some big ole success in the NFL draft. After being blanked last season, it looks like the draft gurus decided to redeem their transgressions and give some love to the # 7 team in the country. With last year’s group of seniors arguably being my favorite of all my TCU days – and with Phillips, Henson, and Hodge alone, it’s hard to argue this – our draft success was extremely satisfying for me as a fan, and doubly satisfying for me as we had more picks taken than those dreaded Longhorns. Heck, we had more picks taken than anyone in the state! This isn’t the time to talk about UTs success rate with NFL prospects… but, since it’s always a good time to bash UT, unless Roy Williams proves me wrong, and I hope that he does, it’s just not that good. Name one UT player who has had as much success in the NFL as LT? I rest my case.
On that note, however, let me get to the meat of my article: what are the chances of success for our guys with their current NFL teams? Unfortunately, when a pick is taken in a lower round, there are no guarantees that they will continue on with the team who drafted them. This isn’t to say that they won’t make an NFL roster, because in most instances a guy who gets drafted and cut will be picked up elsewhere, but right now all we have to go on is how our guys stack up against the competition at their positions. So, starting with the highest pick and going to the lowest, let’s take a peek. Note: I’m going to use the NFL.com draft analysis in order to give an unbiased look at the picks before my inevitable TCU love fest takes hold.
Jason Phillips – Baltimore Ravens - Rd 5, 1st pick (137 overall)
Pick Analysis:The Ravens pick up a highly productive linebacker to add to their already-stout corps. The former Horned Frog has good instincts and shows a natural knack for finding the football. He won't be counted on to contribute as an every-down player immediately, but he could emerge as a future starter in a year or two
ILB – Ray Lewis (6’1”, 250, 14 year veteran
ILB – Tavares Gooden (6’1”, 235, 2 year veteran)
LB – Brenden Ayanbedejo (6’1”, 228, 7 year veteran)
LB – Jameel McClain (6’1”, 250, 2 year veteran)
LB – Jaret Johnson (6’3”, 265, 7 year veteran)
It was a pretty foregone conclusion that Phillips would be the first Horned Frog selected in the 2009 NFL draft, and, honestly, I can’t think of a much better place for him to be than Bodymore, Murdaland. Ok, ok, other than the obvious, Wire-esque aspects of Baltimore, there really aren’t a whole lot of bad things I can say about the place, at least football wise. Yes, they lost their defensive coordinator and yes, Ray Lewis is a murdering fake Christian, but the fact remains that place absolutely breeds linebackers, and Lewis is a big part of that. No matter what you think about the guy, and I don’t think much of him, he’s a great leader in the lockerroom and one of the best inside linebackers the league has ever seen. He’s also in the home stretch of his career and in need of an apprentice to step in and his take his place in a couple of years. It speaks volumes about how the team felt about J-Phil seeing as how he is the only linebacker they took in the entire draft -they took Paul Kreuger from Utah who is listed as a DE/LB, but he will be more of an OLB if he makes that move, so he should not affect Phillips’ standing with the team, same with Johnson– but this could also have something to do with the amount of linebackers they have on the team. Given, they only list 2 ILBs in Lewis and Gooden, both from Miami, it looks like Phillips will have some competition with Ayanbadejo and McClain when it comes to grabbing a spot on the roster. In fact, Ayanbadejo is a three time pro bowler and McClain was a rookie FA last year who not only made the team, but saw action in every single game the Ravens played including the post season. Gooden was a special teamer last year, but don’t think a hard hitting ILB from “the U” is going to let a rookie come in and beat him out without a fight.
Compared to these guys, Phillips is pretty small at 6’0”, 236 pounds, but, you know what they say about the dog in the fight… I was very surprised that Phillips lasted all the way until the fifth round, and I really think the Ravens got a steal with the pick. I definitely agree with the NFL.com analysis about Phillips not being a major contributor immediately, and maybe not even a 3 down player later in his career, but he will have every opportunity to make an impact with the Ravens. Those 3-4 defenses, which the Ravens sort of run, are always looking for solid linebackers and said teams hoard these guys like SMU kids stockpile 8-balls and their dealer rolodexes. Ray Lewis doesn’t have to worry about losing his job, but I think Phillips being able to learn from one of the best is going to be a huge boost to his career. Besides, he started wearing purple, and now he gets to keep wearing purple.
Chance of making team: 99%
Robert Henson – Washington Redskins - Rd 6, 13th pick (186 overall)
Pick Analysis:Henson is a shorter linebacker who runs really well. He will provide the Redskins with special teams help, but he's not ready yet to contribute consistently on the defensive side of the ball
Alfred Fincher (6’1”, 238, 4 year veteran)
Rocky McIntosh (6’2”, 232, 2 year veteran)
Tyson Smith (6’2”, 250, 2 year veteran)
Robert Thomas (6’0”, 235, 7 year veteran)
Cody Glenn (6’0”, 235, Rookie)
Well I got in half right. I honestly thought Henson would be a free agent pick up for some lucky team, but not only did he get drafted; he was drafted before AB and Hodge, two guys who I thought would go ahead of him, especially Hodge. Obviously this is one of those mistakes that I am very glad to have made. I don’t know how many of you listened to Henson’s post-draft interview with David Smoak, but you could definitely sense the excitement in his voice and really grasp how much he’s going to give it everything he’s got in DC. I know Spitpurple will be very excited about having Henson play close to home... although I've been to that stadium and it's anything but close to DC. Despite what was written by myself and others last week about his potential character issues, the disagreements between Henson and Patterson obviously played little role in his draft status, and we can only attribute this to knowing that, despite what you read, Henson is a top notch guy with a big heart and a huge desire to succeed. The only way I could be any happier for him is if he hadn’t gone to a division rival, because I have a feeling Dallas is going to hate seeing him twice a year. Let’s hope that one day Henson replaces David Wesley as Longview’s only recognized sports star - come on LGV, no Bobby Taylor?
Enough of that love fest though -I warned you it was coming -let’s get down to business. I was unsure of what Henson’s role at the next level would be, but given his size (6’1”, 242) and speed, outside linebacker seems like a natural fit. Unfortunately for Henson, he’s got a bit of competition with the Redskins as two young guys have worked their way into starting roles and don’t plan on going anywhere. Washington was also one of the better teams against the run this past season (8th), and will be even better this year with the additions of Albert Haynesworth and Brian Orakpo on the line. The Skins also drafted another OLB in the fifth round who will have the exact same chances as Henson will to make the team.
The good news, though, is that Fincher, the SAM, didn’t exactly set the world on fire last year at the position, ranking near the bottom of the team in tackles. Is Henson strong enough to be a starting strong side linebacker in the NFL? I don’t know, and I really hope he is, but this seems like a great place for him to start learning the position and have an opportunity to make an impact in the future. I think he definitely gets a shot on special teams, and if he can fire up the DC crowd like he could fire up the Frog crowd on kickoffs they’ll be all the better for it. Out of all of our guys, I will be keeping the second closest eye on Henson’s success, but only because of a later pick to be outlined shortly.
Chance of Making Team: 90%
Aaron Brown – Detroit Lions – Rd 6, 19th pick (192 overall)
Pick Analysis:Brown came in as a freshman at TCU and played extremely well, but never lived up to the hype after that. The thought is that he might be able to become a wide receiver. He's a speed guy with return skills in the kicking game. He could become a backup to Kevin Smith in Detroit.
Kevin Smith (6’1”, 217, 2 year veteran)
Maurice Morris (5’11”, 216, 8 year veteran)
Allen Ervin (5”10”, 224, 1 year veteran)
Brian Calhoun (5”10”, 208, 4 year veteran)
Aveion Cason (5”10”, 204, 9 year veteran)
Alright, so I’m not going to sugar coat it: What a terrible, terrible place to have to play football. Overlooking the 0-16 record last year… well, you can’t really overlook it, but go with me… Detroit is the armpit of the entire country. The demise of the auto industry, as well as Eminem, has noticeably crippled what was, while admittedly never a desirable place to live, at least a serviceable place to live. Now, kaput. Thanks for Motown and the White Stripes, but there won’t be any nostalgic songs written 10 years from now when Detroit is sold to Canada for scrap.
I digress though, this is supposed to be about a young man and his desire to play football at the highest level possible, which AB has an excellent shot to do. On the bright side, it looks like Detroit is relatively serious about upgrading that abysmal offense. Despite being known for some of the biggest first round receiver busts in the history of the NFL, the Lions look like they have a good one in Calvin Johnson, and they also picked up talented 903 TE Brandon Pettigrew in the draft. You may have also heard of some QB dandy from Highland park they took in the first round, but the jury is still big time out on him until he laces them up for a NFL game. Sure, he could be the next Montana, but when you commit 60 million to a college junior to lead your team and there’s talk that he could sit on the bench behind Daunte Culpepper of all people, let’s just say there are no guarantees.
Ok, ok, I’ll talk about AB. That analysis is spot on – huge expectations that were destroyed by injuries. I was kind of surprised he came out as a running back, and it looks like Detroit is definitely open to lining him up wide, but let’s just look at one thing: the RB competition. How many of those guys have you heard of? I don’t know why I’ve heard of Kevin Smith, but seriously. Brian Calhoun? Aveion Cason? Let’s just say they don’t exactly have a full stable up there in Sludgeville. Oh yeah, Detroit also finished 30/32 teams last year in rushing offense. Let’s just say they can use some help.
I still think AB will end up as a slot receiver, another place where the competition isn’t exactly steep – I dare you to look at their receiving corp and tell me one stat about anyone other than Calvin Johnson – but seeing as how so many teams are going with a RB platoon nowadays, and Detroit’s pitiful need for backfield help, the opportunity is definitely there. To me, I just don’t think he has the size to take an NFL beating at 6’1”, 196, but I’m not naïve enough to think that strength coaches are there simply to draw a paycheck.
Honestly, I think AB has a fantastic chance to stay on with this team, despite being taken in the 6th round. He will begin the season as a backup, but once Stafford realizes how thin that offensive line is, he’s going to beg the coaching staff to keep AB around for his ability to sneak out in the flat and take a dump pass from him before he gets his spleen caved in.
Chance of Making Team: 95%
Stephen Hodge – Dallas Cowboys – 6th, 24th pick (197 overall)
Pick Analysis:Hodge is a special teams ace. He played safety at TCU and he will be a backup on defense. Still, he helps Dallas in the kicking game and continues the trend of the team trying to fortify what was a weakness last year in special teams.
DeMarcus Ware (6’4”, 262, 5 year veteran)
Greg Ellis (6’6”, 262, 12 year veteran)
Anthony Spencer (6’3”, 255, 3 year veteran)
Jason Williams (6’1”, 241, Rookie)
Call me a homer, and I am, but I can’t think of a more exciting player for the Cowboys to have taken this year than Hodge. Ok, ok, I’m over-exaggerating, and, unfortunately this isn’t the best situation for Hodge to be successful based on the depth chart, but I couldn’t be more excited about seeing how this all pans out. Hodge was probably my favorite player on the defense last year, not necessarily because he was the most exciting or had the most impact – see: Henson and Hughes – but, as I’ve mentioned countless times, when that guy hit someone, everyone is the stadium just went, “OOOOOOHHHH!!!!!” He may not have done it as dirty as Gator, but he was close.
Like I said though, this may not be the ideal situation for the guy. On one side, you have the best defensive player in the NFL in DeMarcus Ware and he’s about to get REAL paid, so don’t expect that side to open up in the next 7 years. On the other, you’ve got the artist formerly known as Greg Ellis, and then previous first round pick Anthony Spencer, who Dallas is fighting tooth and nail to develop as a nice bookend for Ware. With all the attention that Ware gets from opposing teams, this is probably one of the more stat padding positions to play on defense for any team because you’ll have clear shots to the QB on a lot of plays. The Boys also drafted another OLB with their first pick in the draft who will initially be given preference over Hodge.
However, like I said earlier with Phillips, those 3-4 teams LOVE stock piling those pass rushing outside linebackers, and Hodge can definitely be that. AT 6’0”, 234 he doesn’t have the size of current starters Ware and Spencer, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in (cliché alert) grit and determination. All of the pundits say the Cowboys drafted a bunch of special teamers this year rather than future starters, and considering the analysis immediately labels him as a “special teams ace,”, it looks like Hodge is definitely going to have an uphill battle to be a starter in this league. However, Keith Davis has made his entire Cowboys career as a special teams weapon and is now considered one of the most valuable parts of the team. He even got a few starts at safety this past season due to injuries, so you never know where the opportunity lies. Given Dallas’ lack of depth at safety, and Hodge’s familiarity with the position, don’t be surprised if he moves back to his old spot on the field after camp. I don’t think he’s guaranteed a spot, but I do think the odds are in his favor.
Chance of Making Team: 75%
Blake Schlueter – Denver Broncos – Rd 7, Pick 16 (235 overall)
Pick Analysis:Schlueter is a football player, plain and simple. He's very mature and has unbelievable quickness and agility as an offensive lineman. The question for him is whether or not he can keep his weight up. He had one of the best workouts at TCU of anyone in this year's draft.
Kory Lichtensteiger (6’3”, 295, 2 year veteran)
Casey Weigmann (6’2”, 285, 14 year veteran)
Alright, I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong, and I was dead wrong on this one. I thought Schlueter had no chance to make an NFL roster, and if he did it was only an outside shot as a practice teamer. However, dude got swiped in the seventh round by a team that could actually use some help at the center position as they only have two on the roster, and one is old. Perhaps I was only looking at the negatives last week when I wrote my draft preview, and I likely was, but I thought his size would hill him, and speed and agility were pretty far from my mind. Apparently someone else thinks I’m an idiot, which isn’t a surprise. However, and I understand when you have to blurb 250 college athletes you start running out of things to say, but isn’t describing someone as a “football player, plain and simple” a bit of a cop out? I mean.. yeah.. he plays football.. which, by definition, makes him a football player. We understand that complex equation. I’m not claiming to be an elite writer, but come on now, you’re better than that.
Anyway, as lyle mentioned earlier, Denver isn’t exactly a bad place to be brought up as an offensive lineman. Let’s look at the obvious parallel here: Tom Nalen was one of the better centers to play the game, and he was also a seventh round pick for the Broncos. He played 12 years in the league, was on 2 Super Bowl winning teams, played in five pro bowls and had 6 running backs rack up 1000 yard seasons behind him. Not exactly a bad resume for a guy who almost fell out of the draft. I’m not sayng that Schleuter will have that kind of career, but you’ve got to like the footsteps he’s following. As mentioned earlier and in the analysis, size is an issue, but not as much of one as I thought. Perhaps I’m used to seeing Andre Gurode with Dallas (6’4”, 316), and while I knew centers were not near as big as he is and were typically the smallest guys on the line, I just thought that at 284 pounds, Scheluter was in trouble. However, he’s actually on par with Denver’s other two centers. Weigmann is in his first year with the Broncos and was obviously brought in as a veteran to push Lichtensteiger, but who’s to say Schleuter can’t do that as well? After 14 years, Weigmann can’t have much left in the tank, and L (not typing it out anymore) is only a second year guy who hasn’t earned a starting role yet.
After looking at all of this, and despite my initial thoughts, I think Blake landed in the best possible place for him. The competition is there, but no one is entrenched. There’s a new QB to break in, so it’s not like there’s an established QB-center relationship to battle. With a little more meat on his bones and some composure, I don’t know why Schleuter can’t stay on with the Broncos and be on the full time roster. He may be a scout teamer to start, but I think he makes it. I’ve been wrong on him before, but surely I can’t be wrong twice, right?
Chances of Making Team: 66% - because there’s 3 centers on the roster, see what I did there?
So, there you have it, one man’s biased, hastily researched and likely incorrect opinions on the future of TCUs 2009 draftees. Chances are I’ll be wrong on at least one or five of these guys, but you never know, maybe I’m a clairvoyant? Anyway, hopefully we/I can keep a bi-monthly column going this fall on how these guys, and other TCU athletes in the NFL, are doing with the respective teams. I’ve failed on all of my blog ambitions this off season so far, but perhaps I can turn over a new leaf. I doubt it, but never say never. Until next time…